Friday, September 7, 2012

To all our regular readers (and to those of you who may have stumbled across this blog by accident),

Triggerfish Animation Studios has upgraded / revamped / created an awesome new website (, and our blog has been incorporated into the new site!

Go to our new blog page to keep up to date with all our studio news, and check out Triggerfish Labs for an exciting surprise :)

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Innovator of the Year!

Congratulations to our CEO, Stuart Forrest, on winning the Innovator of the Year award at the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year Awards! 

Initiated in 1989, it gives recognition to the vision, innovation, perseverance, drive and commitment of the individuals who run successful small and medium enterprises. We're so proud of Stuart and all the hard work and long hours he has put into making Triggerfish Animation Studios a contender on the world stage! With Stuart at the helm, the company is doing great things - with even greater things to come! 

Our congratulations also go out to all the other winners, including Entrepreneur of the Year, William Duk. You are all an inspiration to others that they too can succeed in the world of business!

For a complete list of winners, go to 

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Smart Monkey

Smart Monkey TV talks to Stuart Forrest (CEO of Triggerfish Animation Studios) on how a South African company came to make an animation feature; the distribution and release of Adventures in Zambezia; its next animation feature Khumba; and the South African animation industry.

For more Smart Monkey TV (interesting interviews with people who know what they're talking about and have something to say for those who are curious)go to

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At the entrance of last week's Mobile Entertainment Africa conference held at the One & Only Waterfront hotel was a big red rhino built by the AfrikaBurn collective "Space Cowboys" of which Triggerfish CFO, Jean-Michel Koenig, is a member.

The project entitled "Ex-tinct" is managed by Cape Town artist, Nix Davies, and works to raise awareness around the plight of rhino poaching and the impact we humans have on the planet.

Below is a photo of Jean-Michel standing next to the rhino in the lobby of the hotel:

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Friday, August 31, 2012

Mobile Entertainment Africa 2012

Yesterday, our CEO, Stuart Forrest, spoke at the Mobile Entertainment Africa 2012 conference held at the One & Only hotel in Cape Town.

Stuart spoke about the Triggerfish journey and where the company is planning to go in a rapidly changing digital landscape. After several years in the making, only now is our film starting to be seen by hundreds of thousands of people across the world. Yesterday, "Zambezia" opened-up on over 400 screens in Germany, Austria and Switzerland - another record for an African produced film in these territories.

These are exciting times for Africa and the conference was a chance to meet with other ground-breaking companies on the continent like iROKO Partners and Buni TV.

Their stories are equally inspiring. Pin It

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Care Bears

If you are a regular reader of our blog, you'll know that about 3 weeks ago we did "Reach for your Slippers" day here at Triggerfish. In addition to supporting Reach for a Dream, we also supported The Warehouse's Donate a Bear initiative! Yesterday, Winston, a representative from The Warehouse came to Triggerfish to collect all the teddies (we filled a large Sappi recycling box!). 

Henrietta De Castro with Winston Marchant from The Warehouse

If you are interested in donating a teddy bear, why not get your entire office involved? The more teddies they get, the more lives they can change!

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Bring on the Box Office

Or Why We Do What We Do.

Tonight, our first film Zambezia goes out on 800 screens across 150 cities in Russia. This is both petrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Hundreds of thousands of people will see the film and it’s a fantastic achievement for the team at Triggerfish who fought knee deep in the salt marsh heaving a cutlass (apologies to T.S. Eliot).

Our Russian distributor had originally planned to go out on 250 screens, but after a super successful test screening in Moscow they decided to lift the number to 800 screens with another 100 screens on standby. District 9 went out on 453 screens in Russia, so this makes Zambezia the most widely distributed African film in that territory.

Our film is entering its 7th week in Israel where more than 60,000 people have been to see it. We are the leading independent film in the territory and we are beating Aardman/ Sony’s The Pirates! Band of Misfits and have done 1/3 the Box Office of Disney/ Pixar’s Brave on considerably less screens and on a fraction of their budgets – this is a phenomenal achievement for a little studio in Cape Town.

It’s hard to extrapolate data on how the film will perform in other territories, but the mood is good among distributors and we are excited about the future. By its nature, the film industry has an outsize influence on the world. We hope that our film will help recast the perception people have about Africa. We want to tell a different story.

This is why we do what we do. For the love of it.
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Monday, August 20, 2012

Big (Idea) Friday!

Last Friday was "Big Friday" at Triggerfish Animation Studios! Instead of everybody doing their regular work on "Khumba", we were given the day to work on any other creative projects dear to our hearts. 

Anyone who had an idea for something they wanted to conceptualise or create posted their ideas onto the Triggerfish forum. People then had the chance to browse through all the different ideas and chose a team to join for the day!

Groups ranged from redesigning our offices, to brainstorming marketing and merchandising for "Khumba", to conceptualising a short film based on the synopsis for a potential third feature film, and creating augmented reality apps and a casual game based on our own I.P! Kelly Dillon and her team got the opportunity to work on her "award" winning short film "Bellyflop". Her team managed to storyboard most of the short, and even created a soundtrack for it!

The Bellyflop team hard at work!

Brainstorming ideas for a new studio short!

The gaming team with their thinking caps on!

Watch this space, as the studio partners will be looking at each group's ideas and material they managed to generate, and will be picking a winner!

The idea is to have Big Friday more than once, to give people the opportunity to expand on what they accomplished last Friday, and to take their projects even further!

*All images by Anthony Silverston

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Interested in our Interns?

Ever wondered what our interns get up to at Triggerfish? Or maybe you're studying animation and are interested in doing an internship here once you're done. Lawrence Jaeger (technical artist) shares his internship experience in the piece below. Watch this space for other accounts from interns in other departments! 


I began my internship at the start of November 2011, a week after completing my three-year course at The Animation School. I was placed in the department I had hoped to be in - Technical.

Most of the other interns got that week before we started to relax, but I was told by my HOD at the time, Simon Anderson (now working at Animal Logic) to learn XSI Softimage during that week, as we were trained on Maya, so that I could begin work ASAP! 

I arrived at Triggerfish the Monday morning, not sure if my eyes were deceiving me. The work space was amazing, people laughing and having so much fun - I wasn't sure if it was the high levels of caffeine in their systems or if these people were genuinely having a blast. I was soon to find out for myself.

I was given a desk and met my fellow techies, and within the first few minutes I was overcome with a feeling. A feeling so awesome, one that I can still remember today. The feeling of never having to wake up feeling like I would be coming to work. The feeling of waking up every morning, and getting to do what I love!

Simon put me to work right away. I remember him saying, "How is your understanding of Softimage?" I told him it was pretty good, given that I was given a week to make the transition. He then replied, "Good! Here, rig this Gemsbok!" Thrown in the deep end and wouldn't have had it any other way! At the end of the day, it is the quickest way to learn how to swim. For the first five months I was involved in the rigging side of things, learning so much. I was then picked up and trained by the studios stereographer, Chris Cunnington (who received a personal training session by the DreamWorks stereo artist) as he was going away for a month and the work needed to be done.

Learning stereo blew my mind and it's great to have that knowledge, as well as the fact that I got to be an HOD (Head of Department) for a month. After that I was placed with the finaling team and worked in that department for a duration of about two months. During that time two of the riggers left Triggerfish, one to pursue a career in the game industry and the other for personal reasons. So I was called back to where I belong, and for the past two months I have been fixing rig issues and writing scripts here and there to make the animators life a little easier. 

In my time, going on 10 months, as an intern at Triggerfish I have learnt so much it's ridiculous! I was fortunate enough to be thrown around the studio to help in different departments, learning every step of the way. At the end I am glad that I have the knowledge of rigging, scripting, stereo, finaling and VFX. Glad to know that I have found my passion in the industry – my passion as a techie!

Lawrence Jaeger
Technical Artist
Triggerfish Animation Studios

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Enter Sand(y) Man

Sandy Sutherland has been here since the beginning, when Triggerfish Animation Studios was only a few people working out of one building (The Long House). He’s been here through the years it took to complete “Adventures in Zambezia”, he witnessed the renovation of the Barn to meet the needs of a rapidly growing studio, and he will be here to see the completion of “Khumba”, and beyond.  

As Technical Supervisor here at Triggerfish, Sandy operates behind-the-scenes, and while the work he does is often unseen, without his help and his expertise there would be no “Adventures in “Zambezia”” or “Khumba”. In the Q&A below we shed some light on what he does – our way of saying thank you for all the work that he has put into our two films, and for all the fixes and troubleshooting that he will be doing for us tomorrow!

What did you do when you started out in CG Animation?

I've had to work my way up through the ranks. I started with modelling, texturing, rendering, everything, which is typical South African animator as it were. I got taken on for “Zambezia” but it was before (The Barn) was built. 

On “Zambezia” I was lead rigger, and we did the rigging for all the characters. We got every character rigged, and did all the fixes on them. When that was finished we moved on to doing the special effects – we did the dust, we did the clouds. We did the pots being dropped with all the colourful dust, also the shattering of the wheel at the end of the film, that sort of thing.

What is your role at Triggerfish now?

I am Technical Supervisor, so I take care of any fixes, methodologies on how to do stuff, and I look after the render farm. I also do a lot of troubleshooting – like right now I’m trying to fix a scene where one of the characters has been animated, but it’s a very big set so the character is very far from the origin. It’s a problem in a 3D package because the further you get from the origin, the more you start getting numerical instabilities, and then what happens is that the rigs don’t work very well or the mesh goes funny. So I’m busy trying to fix that in this particular scene, so right now the character is just in orbit.

I also developed the point caching system that we use here. We use a point caching system where we’ve got the animation rigs, but they don’t go through to lighting because that can be really heavy, so what we do is when animation is finished, point caching happens, and each point of the geometry is written into a file and then another file is opened that reads that frame by frame and moves the point as it were. We also do fur caching, which is very similar it just uses a different file format.

In terms of the render farm, I actually helped Basil build it, and I take care of it and make sure that it runs ok, and install new versions. I also look after the renderer that we use on the render farm – I build it in Linux and then make it run.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Definitely getting the scenes rendered. Some of the sets are so huge, and we’ve struggled a lot with the amount of memory needed to get them rendered, even though the renderer that we have now is very good at handling a lot of data. We developed a system where we use what are called ‘stand-ins’. We wrote out a mini-render for Arnold called an .ass file (the guy who wrote Arnold obviously had a sense of humour) for each asset, and then Arnold knows how to render that file, so it doesn’t have to translate itself and just renders it directly. So instead of it translating every little bush in the scene, it just loads the little .ass file in its place which it already knows how to render. So that way we save memory and time.

Another challenge was when we first started using Arnold, the plug-in that we were using didn’t support it that well, as it didn’t translate the paths properly. We use Windows work stations, but we use Linux to render, so you’ve got to convert the paths so that the two systems communicate with each other. We had to develop tools to convert the Windows paths to Linux paths and make sure that they are correct, otherwise all the renders crash.

You were here for the whole of “Zambezia” and now you’re here for “Khumba” as well, what differences can you see between the two films from a technical point of view?

Well, “Khumba” is just a lot bigger –in terms of the technicality and in terms of the shots. “Zambezia” was taken to quite a high level, but it can’t compare to “Khumba”. In “Khumba” the sets, all the bushes and the dressing and everything, are so much more complex than “Zambezia” was. So much so, that we actually had to use a different renderer for “Khumba”. We did a couple of test renders before “Khumba” started and we settled on the one we have now. The renderer that we used for “Zambezia” wouldn’t be able to render what we’re doing now – there’s just too much information.

Do you work very closely with Jared (our Software Developer)?

Yes I do, and with Simon before him. Jared and Simon developed most of the scripts – basically I just tell them that we need a script that can, for example, check the path and check that it’s correct so that when it gets to the Linux machine it doesn’t find that somebody’s typed a capital letter somewhere, then when it gets to the Linux machine it can’t find the path. In fact, Simon developed Squirrel, but I kind of initiated it. “Zambezia” was a mess, everyone was basically doing their own thing, and we tried to implement strategies and pipelines, things like that but it didn’t work very well. So when we came off “Zambezia”, Simon and I said that we had to do (“Khumba”) differently, that we had to have a system in place that automatically wrote where things went and knew where things were – something that controlled the whole system. It was actually intended to go a lot further but we just ran out of time. It was intended to be a complete approval system. So that let’s say a modeller is modelling something, he would finish and he would submit it for approval. It would then go to his HOD, but it would disappear from the modeller (he wouldn’t see the file anymore), and would then appear on the HOD’s list of things to do. The HOD would then be able to look at it and approve it. If it was approved it would disappear from the HOD’s list and go into the system, and if it was disapproved it would go back to the modeller.

That being said, what we have now works well. We have 1200 assets on “Khumba”, and there’s no real way of controlling them without having a system.

After “Khumba”, do you think you’d have another sit down and see how the system can be improved for the next film?

Oh definitely. The biggest problem we faced in developing Squirrel is that you need a few months of not working on anything else so that you can write the stuff and test it. Squirrel was  developed in production, which turned out to be a nightmare because we’d think something would work really well, but then it didn’t and then we’d have to re-work it. But because it’s in production, it’s more difficult because you tend to have to fix things in a hurry and as they happen, instead of testing the whole thing, seeing what doesn’t work and then fix it or re-wire it completely. So Squirrel, as it is, is not ideal because it’s been ad-hock fixed, as we needed it to work right then and there.  But it still works well!

That it does :)

Photo by Julia Merrett

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Future of Independent Filmmaking & Casual Gaming

An article written by our CFO for the Wry Republic website:
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Friday, August 10, 2012

Stop the Presses

Our first film, Adventures in Zambezia, is now showing in Israel. Thousands of people have been to see it and even though Israel is a relatively small territory, Adventures in Zambezia remains the number one independent animation film after its 4th week in the local market.

Adventures in Zambezia is taking on a life of its own as distributors around the world are attaching their own stars to the project. It's exciting stuff for our studio as we anticipate the film's release in Russia and Germany later this month.

Film has the capacity to showcase a country's creativity which is why it remains a prestigious cultural export. The world has heard of Hollywood, and now Bollywood, and even Nollywood is starting to make its presence felt. It's time for South Africa.

And the press is picking-up on this. Here are two articles that came out recently talking about what we are trying to do:

How Stuart Forrest built one of Africa's top animation studios

and we made CNN ...

'Zambezia': 3D animation puts South Africa film in the picture

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